Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Philippines deliberates on lifting foreign ownership cap

J. F. S. Valdez

THE HOUSE of Representatives yesterday started plenary discussions on a resolution that seeks to lift the 40% limit the Constitution imposes on foreign ownership of corporations and alienable lands.

Speaker Prospero C. Nograles of Davao City (1st district), principal author of House Resolution (HR) 737 — a "Resolution Proposing Amendments to Sections 2 and 3, Article XII of the Constitution to Allow the Acquisition by Foreign Corporations and Associations and the Transfer or Conveyance of Alienable Public and Private Lands" — reiterated to reporters in a press conference yesterday that the resolution will tackle only this economic provision and will not touch other areas of the Charter.

Business and opposition leaders have cautioned congressmen against using the move to amend economic provisions to sneak in initiatives to extend the terms of incumbent elected officials, starting with the President.

Mr. Nograles earlier said HR 737, which had been approved by the committee on constitutional amendments last Feb. 3, would be accompanied by a resolution still to be filed by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte (2nd district) that would convene Congress into a constituent assembly. Mr. Nograles said yesterday that this proposal still has 175 signatures — 22 signatures shy of the two-thirds vote (197) needed to be approved in plenary.

Mr. Villafuerte’s resolution focuses on Article XVII Section 1 of the Constitution which states: "Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members."

The change could be achieved by converting Congress into a constituent assembly, through the holding of a constitutional convention or through a people’s initiative that would require voting by legislative district.

Edgardo G. Lacson, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a phone interview yesterday that while his group supports the initiative to ease terms of the Constitution’s economic provisions, even this has to be done carefully.

"We support the resolution, but it cannot be across the board, it should only be sectoral...This should not apply to all industries, because some may benefit and some might be harmed due to this proposal. Congress should first study up to what extent it can ease on the economic provisions," he said, citing ancestral land and media ownership as examples of areas where caution should be observed.

Alberto A. Lim, Makati Business Club executive-director, said that while moves to ease economic restrictions in the Constitution favor business, any initiative to change the Charter should be acted on after the elections next year, in order to make sure incumbent officials do not benefit. "We believe using a non-controversial provision [like the foreign ownership cap] is a ploy to garner 197 signatures to be able to fast-track amending the Constitution through a constituent assembly. Any change to the Charter should be done after 2010," he said in a phone interview.

Reps. Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel (Akbayan), Saturnino C. Ocampo and Teodoro A. Casiño (Bayan Muna), Liza L. Maza and Luzviminda C. Ilagan (Gabriela), and Rafael V. Mariano (Anakpawis) said in a press conference yesterday that they will file a motion to return HR 737 to the committee level, arguing that the proposal "was not deliberated upon enough in the committee and was railroaded."

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